Coggeshall Town 4 Haverhill Borough 0

 

It’s a breezy, cool, late April evening with a threat of rain in the air; setting off along the A120 I set my car windscreen wipers to intermittent.  But it’s still light and there’s no need for headlights.  I might have travelled by bus (Service 70 from Colchester to Chelmsford via Braintree), except that I wouldn’t have been able to get home because the last bus in my direction from Coggeshall leaves before half past seven.  An overnight stay in Coggeshall would have been extravagant.

My Citroen C3 bounces over the rutted car park of Coggeshall Town car park and we come to rest facing the pitch.  The car park is not yet full, but there are a good few A Ford transit provides Haverhill Borough with a busvehicles here, including the white Ford Transit that is the Haverhill Borough team bus,  which is encouraging.  I nod and smile to the man who has parked next to me; I am impressed that the gaffer tape securing his Ford Mondeo’s rear bumper matches its silver paintwork. “Alright mate?” he says.  I follow him and his wife through the turnstile and wait whilst they nominate their player of the season; they’re regulars.  In time I pass through the turnstile myself, entry is £6 and I buy a programme too (£1.50).  I walk along the concrete path behind and above the main stand towards the club house.  The Haverhill Borough team are warming up on the main pitch whilst the Coggeshall players have a kick-about on the practice pitch.

In the clubhouse I speak to Paul who runs the club twitter account and films the games.  We talk about  marriage and being happy, but agree we’re here for the football.  Paul goes to set up his camera and I head to the bar to buy a pint of Caledonian Brewery Coast to Coast (£3.90) which turns out to be very cold and very fizzy.  I feel like I might explode as I struggle uncomfortably to suppress a series of frosty burps. I may not buy this beer again; I may not have to with its hoppy flavours repeatedly bubbling up from below.   I speak with Jim who is usually with Keith, but not tonight because Keith was double-booked.  Jim asks if will be writing about tonight.  “I expect so” I say. “You can tell you’re an Ipswich fan” says Jim mysteriously. I step outside.

Kick-off is approaching and I rest my beer on the roof of the stand and look at the programme.  Men huddle around the team sheet displayed on the outside wall of theCoggeshal Town Fc v Haverhill Borough team sheet changing rooms.  I move down into the stand behind the goal before the two teams line up side by side behind the referee on the steps leading down from the changing rooms to the pitch.  A Haverhill supporter lazily and thoughtlessly leaves open the gate from the steps into the stand, so I public spiritedly close it, joking to the referee that we don’t want any players taking a wrong turn into the stand.  He makes reference to my beer implying that it might result in such an occurrence.   I avoid burping in his general direction.  With the players safely on the pitch I wander round to the main stand.  “It’s a bit wet innit? The grass” says a man to his partner.

Haverhill kick off in the direction of the town wearing a somewhat dull all blue kit, whilst Coggeshall stand out under the lights in their handsome red and black stripes with black shorts.  Coggeshall soon gain possession and on that basis proceed to do most of the attacking. They have the first shot.  “Come on ref, keep an eye on the game” says a man angrily as Coggeshall’s number 7 is fouled.

The match is a bit scrappy, full of hoofs and meaty headers.  Coggeshall’s play is disjointed as they try too hastily to get the ball forward; if they win tonight they will be promoted to the Bostik League Division 1 North.  But it’s a fine night at West Street with a distinctive atmosphere emanating from the swears and shouts and the rattle and clatter of studs on the hard pitch, even though the grass is a bit wet, as the man said.  On the far side of the pitch the Coggeshall bench is packed with players and coaches.  But the Haverhill bench is home to just three, who look like they’re waiting for a bus; they’ve got a long wait; it’s a good job they’ve got their own in the car park.  Beyond the far side of the ground the valley leads down to the River Blackwater, lined with spindly trees leaning in the breeze beneath a mass of travelling clouds; if the pitch had been covered in poppies Claude Monet might have painted it.

“Get it tight”. “Good boy”. It’s a minute to eight and Coggeshall’s number eight places a firm shot towards a point just behind the inside of the goal post, but the young Haverhill goalkeeper makes a fine save, diving to his right.   There is banter in the stands amongst of old boys in their late sixties or seventies.  A much younger woman in the front row turns round in appreciation. In conversation a Haverhill fan relays that their goalkeeper is just seventeen years-old.  Sensing some sort of boastfulness a Coggeshall fan counters that their full-backs have mental ages of three and four.

It’s nearly ten past eight and Coggeshall’s star man, number nine Nnamdi Nwachuku shoots spectacularly over the angle of the goalpost and crossbar. There’s a corner to Coggeshall. “Who’s got the big man coming in?” shouts a concerned voice from within the stand.  Haverhill’s number eight is booked by referee Mr Gerry Heron for a foul on Coggeshall’s number seven.  Another corner to Coggeshall and an urgent voice from on the pitch asks “Who the fuckin’ ‘’ell’s got the free?”   Good question; the ’free’ shoots, but misses.

Only ten minutes to half-time and there’s a free-kick to Coggeshall. The kick is taken, a hand goes up and Gerry Heron awards a penalty to Coggeshall.  Haverhill’s number 4, a very chunky,  quite skilful but gobby midfield player is not happy; had he been incandescent with rage he might have spontaneously combusted and burned very brightly.  Fortunately he doesn’t and Gerry Heron cautions him amidst much animated waving of arms from the portly playmaker.  Back to the penalty spot. Nwachuku scores. “ Cool as you like” says a man nearby.

Coggeshall want more goals and number seven makes a run down the right in front of the stand. “Do ‘im son, do ‘im, all day long” calls a voice with rising excitement before releasing a mournful groan as seven’s cross rises almost vertically from his ankle and over the stand.  But it’s half time now and I invest in a pound’s worth of tea with a dash of Danish owned Cravendale brand milk, in the hope that it might quell the beery repetition I am still suffering and warm my chilled intestines.  I stand about and like Edward Hopper enjoy the light spilling out through the window from the club house bar and onto the deck.  It’s getting dark and the cloudy sky has turned cobalt blue.

For the second half I stand in the corner  near the goal that Coggeshall are attacking, but it’s a bit breezy and I move ‘indoors’ into the seats of the main stand, close to the old boys whose banter had amused in the first half .  It’s like sitting in front of Statler and Waldorf in the Muppet Show, but there’s five of them.

It’s now five past nine and rain is being carried on the wind into the front row of the stand, making a row of lads laugh as they get wet. “Is it raining?” asks a woman behind me somewhere. “I didn’t know it was raining” she adds unnecessarily.  Seven minutes later Coggeshall number three Curtiss Haynes-Brown advances down the left, then a bit more.  “Go on! Hit One!”  Someone shouts, so he does and he scores and it’s 2-0 to Coggeshall.

Haverhill are still resisting as best they can and there is a brief contretemps between Nwachuku and the chunky number four.  Gerry Heron intervenes but takes no specific action despite advice from the stand that “It’s that fat fucker, number four, ref!”  Haverhill take heart and with about fifteen minutes to go their number ten forces the Coggeshall goalkeeper into making his first real save of the night.  But Nwachuku soon scores another goal after making a dashing run towards goal and a bit later skips through the Haverhill defence once again to complete his hat-trick for the evening and increase Coggeshall’s goal difference to +117 for the season.

That’s promotion secured and the old fellas behind seem keen to leave a bit early, but fear that Coggeshall might score again and they’ll miss it.  One of them says that they didn’t really leave early on Saturday but the team played on without them. Someone complains that it seems a very long half,  but then perhaps sensing that people have seen enough Gerry Heron whistles for the last time; it’s not quite twenty five to ten. I’ll be home in five minutes.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

 

 

Ipswich Town 0 Hull City 3

A surfeit of snow last Saturday week resulted in a rare postponement at Portman Road and now the joy that emanated from the relief of not having to go out on a grey, cold, icy afternoon is re-doubled as we reap the benefit of the inevitable mid-week match under floodlights.
On the basis that yes, it is possible to go to the pub too soon, I play the unaccustomed role of thrusting career man by working until five o’clock, but then walk directly to St Jude’s Tavern along with my accomplice for the first part of the evening, Roly. It feels odd that it’s still light, but that’s the wonder of the Earth’s rotation on its tilted access around the sun for you. In Sir Alf Ramsey Way a white van disgorges its load of transparent, polythene, East Anglian Daily Times ‘goodie-bags’ onto the pavement behind the North 40813963291_4cdf1f5084_o(Sir Bobby Robson) Stand and a few stewards stand about and chat before entering the ground. I wave to a moustachioed man called Michael who is hanging about in a blue Ipswich Town jacket by one of the burger vans on the Portman Road car park.
At St Jude’s Roly and I quickly decide to enjoy a pint on its own before moving onto a pie and a pint. We each choose the Match Day Special (£2.50) and before we have finished our pints Phil the ever present fan who never misses a game walks in carrying a bag of chips. Phil asks me to hold his chips while he asks at the bar if they feel comfortable with him consuming food purchased off the premises; they do and thanks to this grown-up, relaxed and progressive attitude he is able to join us with a half a pint of something about which I don’t know the detail. We talk football but also, in an homage to ‘What’s My Line’, of our respective employment and Phil reveals that he once worked at a music venue where he ‘roadied’ for Iggy Pop. He did the same for other recording artists apparently but having heard him mention Iggy Pop, I wasn’t paying attention after that. I soon return to the bar to arrange pies and pints (£5 for one of each); the last Steak & Kidney pie in the fridge for Roly and Chicken and Mushroom for me. I choose Elgood’s Cambridge for my pint whilst Roly remains faithful to the Match Day Special.
St Jude’s is filling up with bands of middle aged blokes heading for the match, but determined to at least get some enjoyment from the evening by drinking some good beer first. Chips, pies and pints savoured, Phil and Roly then each imbibe a half of Nethergate Priory Mild whilst I enjoy a full pint (£3.20) because I am going home by public transport and can drink as much beer as I like. Phil leaves for the game before Roly and I and before we in turn leave I speak to a cap-wearing, bearded man called Kevin, who I know from our shared experience of Wivenhoe Town. Kevin has come to St Jude’s after reading about it in this blog. Roly and I are leaving earlier than I would wish because he wants a ‘goodie bag’, or at least the packet of crisps it contains.
The walk to the match is as ever brisk and full of anticipation as the glow of the floodlights draws us down Portman Road like moths to a flame. As we pass the end of Great Gipping street I catch a glimpse of an upright lady gliding past on her black, Dutch, Azor bicycle, her dark curls buffeted by the breeze. “Gail!” I call and she stops. It’s my friend and former colleague who I have correctly identified as Gail, riding home from work. She’s late because her train was. I admire her red leather gloves and am impressed that she has negotiated the Portman Road crowds on her splendid black bicycle. We kiss one another on the cheek like the sophisticated Europeans that we are, no Brexit for us, and exchange all too brief words before carrying on our respective ways. Under the far-off gaze of Sir Alf Ramsey’s statue Roly and I part company as he heads for the East of England Co-operative stand to take up his ‘posh’ seat, which is more suited to Waitrose than the Co-op.


I breathe in the smells of bacon, chips and onions and move on down gently-lit Portman Road to the Sir Alf Ramsey Stand, which is forever Churchmans. It seems the club has not opened all the turnstiles tonight and so I join a queue and remember what it was to go to a ’big match’ in the days of terraces. Inside the ground the strains of ‘My Way’ are reaching their conclusion; played in honour of Sir Bobby Robson whose favourite song it was, but poignantly and probably unknowingly tonight in honour of the man who wrote it. Cabaret singer Claude Francois or ‘Clo-Clo’ as he was popularly known in his native France, died forty years ago this weekend just gone. A nasty little man by many accounts, but beloved by thousands of middle-aged French women, he died in mysterious circumstances when he stood up in a hotel bath to correct a flickering light bulb. In France the fortieth anniversary of his death is front page news.
The game begins with tonight’s opponents Hull City, in their customary tiger suits of amber and black striped shirts with black shorts kicking towards the Sir Bobby Robson (North) Stand, but Ipswich get first go with the ball and start the game quite well. Within the first ten minutes Town win a corner and a header from Jordan Spence strikes a post. But Hull respond with shots at goal of their own and Bartosz Bialkowski makes a couple of neat saves. A drum is drummed in the North Stand and a chant chanted. Hull supporters make equivalent sounds. The man in the aged couple behind me says “That’s three shots their had”. “Yes” says his partner. “We never have one do we”. His partner doesn’t respond, hopefully she remembers the header against the post, although strictly speaking I suppose that wasn’t a shot.
I dare to think things aren’t that bad, but then a free-kick is passed to a Norwegian man called Markus Henriksen, who like the villain in some Scandi-noir stabs Town fans’ hearts with a right footed shot past big Bart’. I look to the bench expecting to see Mick McCarthy holding his head like the isolated figure in Edvard Munch’s The Scream. I’d been hoping for a third consecutive goalless draw, and now this. I rally and chant on my own whilst every other Town fan recedes into their customary introspective gloom. Twenty-three minutes have passed and the visiting supporters, of whom there are 290, advise the home supporters that “Your support is fucking shit” as the familiar Welsh hymn goes. They are of course right and I imagine Mick McCarthy would respect their bluntness; no pussyfooting about asking if this is a library. But they know all about libraries in Hull, or Philip Larkin did.
Freddie Sears and Grant Ward dash down the right and cross the ball to an invisible force, which fails to score. Meanwhile down the left not so much happens; Town’s nicely named left-back Jonas Knudsen may be in the Danish international squad, but I can’t be optimistic about a player nicknamed ‘Mad Dog’; less marauding Viking and more appreciation of Soren Kierkegaard and hygge is what’s needed.
Forty minutes pass; referee Mr Jeremy Simpson, the least amusing of Matt Groening’s characters, fails to spot the ball ricochet off a Hull player for a corner to Ipswich and instead play heads north at the feet of the Tigers and a low cross is turned into Ipswich goal net by a young lad by the name of Harry Wilson. Wilson is a player crying out to be managed by the late, great Brian Clough who would doubtless have referred to him as Harold Wilson. The 0-2 score line is enough for some in the North Stand to brush off their copies of The Beachboys’ Pet Sounds and sing along to Track 7 letting Mick McCarthy know that his “…football is shit”. Half-time comes and the expected booing ensues.
In common with the theme for the whole evening, there is no entertainment at half-time. I flick through the glossy but dull programme. Scanning club captain Luke Chamber’s column I see a headline “There is not enough communication and people approaching you to discuss your options. There is no help with planning going forward”. That’s an unusually frank and honest assessment I think, imagining he’s talking about playing for Town; it turns out however that he’s writing about the lack of help and advice the Professional Footballers Association gives to players towards the ends of their careers. Or so he says.


The game begins again and within two minutes Hull City are winning 3-0 as someone called Jarrod Bowen kicks the ball between Bialkowski and his near post. Once again the North Stand let Mick McCarthy know about his stinky football, which seems a bit harsh because I doubt he told the players to just let anyone in a stripey shirt run past them and score, which is what they actually did. But at least the Hull supporters are happy and they ask if they can play us every week; which is nice.
The game is effectively over now and Hull are happy to allow Ipswich to endlessly pass the ball about between themselves, as long as they don’t kick it at their goal, and that is largely what happens. As the ball nears the Hull penalty area someone shouts “Shoot”. The old boy behind me responds “They don’t know the meanin’ of the word” whilst his partner reflects “I reckon that’s all they do up Humber Doucy Lane, keep passing the ball to one another”. Some spectators make their own entertainment, cheering sarcastically with each pass but largely the atmosphere is morose. The chill night air further deadens all feeling and for a few moments I lose myself in the heady smell of the damp turf. Two of the Hull players sport pony tails, which is a bit dated, another is balding and with his bushy beard looks like a member of the Russian royal family or King George V. The Buddleia still grows in the roof of the stand. The attendance is announced as a palindromic 13,031. Just after a quarter past nine Freddie Sears manages a shot, which isn’t very far wide of the goal and draws some applause. When Hull’s Will Keane runs largely unopposed through the defence and forces Bialkowski into a save a ripple of unrest passes through the East of England Co-op stand like a shiver. The old folks behind me leave and there are still eight minutes left of normal time; he says something about watching paint dry.
The final minutes have a slightly new soundtrack as the North Stand sing “Get out of our club, Get out of club, Mick McCarthy, Get out of our club” naturally to that tune for all occasions, Sloop John B. I don’t fully understand why, but in my head I’m singing “If you want a lot of chocolate on your biscuit join our Club”.
Jeremy Simpson is a kind man, irrespective of his poor eyesight and only three minutes of added time are joined on to the usual ninety; once these have expired I am quick to turn and leave, closing my ears to the boos and the wailing and gnashing of teeth. It’s only a game after all and I’m pleased for Hull; any city that can boast an association with William Wilberforce, Phillip Larkin and Mick Ronson deserves the odd 3-0 away win.

 

 

 

 

Coggeshall Town 6 Fakenham Town 1

 

If I had remained completely true to my existential, celebrate-the-mundane self, this piece might be entitled “Halstead Town versus Swaffham Town match postponed due to a frozen pitch” and would be a description of how I came to follow Halstead Town football club on Twitter and discovered that the match I had intended to watch this afternoon would not take place.  It would not have been a long piece and I might even have just written it.  But games get postponed and life goes on and so I looked for another game to watch and the nearest one to my home address is in West Street, Coggeshall, also known as ‘The Crops’, although I will be disappointed to discover that the sign announcing that no longer adorns the side of the changing rooms.

It is a cold, still December day; not bitterly cold, more penetratingly cold, although my hearty optimism and excitement at the thought of going to a match easily quench the thought of getting a little chilly as I set out on the three mile drive from my house.  Diving off the A120 into Coggeshall I motor past the Co-op where later I will buy some corned beef, milk, beer, Muscovado sugar and dairy free chocolate, the latter being for my dairy intolerant spouse. In the centre of town a bus is turning right to head past the ground on its way to Braintree; a pang of guilt hits me; I could have used public transport, there is a bus stop at the bottom of my garden; but then I couldn’t have popped into the Co-op.  Emerging from down-town Coggeshall and its fine collection of timber-framed buildings, the football ground is on the left and I park up at the front of the site taking care not to back my Citroen C3 into an Audi behind me, despite my dislike of ostentatious automobiles.

There seem to be few if any people heading towards Coggeshall Town football ground this afternoon, although it is barely twenty to three, and entering the ship-lap clad wooden turnstile block is a lonely experience.  But the turnstile operator is a cheery fellow and   greets me like a long lost friend, almost to the extent that I want to ask, “Do I know you?”, but that would seem a bit rude and to be honest I have a very poor memory for faces. I join in with the bonhomie therefore and then offer a fresh ten pound note for the admission and a programme (£1). “Are you, are you…….er, normal?” asks my new friend clearly struggling desperately for the right words to ask if I might qualify for the concessionary price.   “Yes, I‘m normal” I say hopefully, understanding that he means I pay the full price (£6).  He apologises, explaining that some people get upset if you ask them for the full price when they qualify for the concession because they are old bastards.  I reply that I understand, and I do.   The bloke at the turnstile goes on to tell me that the clubhouse is open and so is the tea bar at the side; he is not  just a turnstile operator he’s a concierge.

Having paid my entrance money I linger just beyond the turnstile taking in the view of the pitch and countryside beyond from the concrete path that leads to the club house.  It’s a beautiful sight.  I move on and recovering from the disappointment that ‘The Crops’ sign is no longer on the side of the changing rooms I find that the clubhouse has been renovated since I was last here, the exterior having been covered in modish cladding and there are glass doors adorned with the club crest; the interior is updated in similar fashionable materials, there is also an area of decking outside; it all seems a bit like a holiday village rather than a football ground, but then I grew up in the 1960’s and fondly recall pubs having outside toilets, as did my grandmother’s council house.  Stepping outside again I explore the low stand behind the goal and look at the pitch side

advertisement hoardings; it seems that everywhere I go an undertaker sponsors the local club.  I am also impressed that there is an advertisement for a maker of sash windows; no doubt a busy man given Coggeshall’s many old buildings.  I then meet my next door neighbour’s son Sam who is here with a bunch of mates from school; he tells me his dad his here too and he’s not having me on.  Paul my neighbour is enjoying a hot drink and after watching the teams file down on to the pitch and saying hello to a man called James, who plays guitar and used to work for Crouch Vale brewery, I join him as we wait for the first half to begin.   As the teams line up and the coaches occupy their benches, he tells me that one of the track-suited blokes in the dug-out is Ollie Murs, who I understand is a singer, popular with modern day teeny boppers.   I’m sure he is no Johnny Hallyday nevertheless.  Repose en paix Johnny.

Coggeshall kick off the game in the general direction of Braintree, wearing red and black striped shirts with back shorts whilst their guests from faraway Fakenham wear white shirts and blue shorts and have the name Macron above the numbers on the backs, sadly not because they all share the surname of the French president but because the shirts are manufactured by a company called Macron. Coggeshall look very much like the home team, by which I mean they dominate the attacking play, which is no surprise given that they are second in the league table and Fakenham fourth from bottom.  My neighbour tells me that Coggeshall’s star striker gets £300 a week and £50 a goal; I have no way of knowing if this is true, but if it is it doesn’t seem right or fair in a league in which most clubs struggle to attract an average crowd of one-hundred; but apparently he‘s not playing today anyway.

The early part of the game is not brilliant to watch and I am as interested by the sky, the trees,OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA an old man poking his head into the tea bar and the lads lined up behind the Fakenham goal as I am by what happens on the pitch; my neighbour refers to the lads behind the goal as ‘herberts’, doubtless because his son is amongst them, although his son’s name is Sam.  Coggeshall ought to score because they clearly have the better players, but at about twenty minutes past three a cross drops at the far post and the ball is side-footed high into the Coggeshall goal net to give ‘The Ghosts’, for that is their nickname, an unexpected lead.  Predictably perhaps the goal shames Coggeshall into action and within five minutes they equalise; an unchallenged header drifting past the static goalkeeper and inside the post.  Thereafter Coggeshall dominate and play some pretty passing football, but ultimately a lack of true team play prevents them from registering the goals their superior ability suggests they should score.  I take a walk around the pitch seeking a different perspective.  Fakenham move forward and from behind the Coggeshall goal I overhear a conversation between Coggeshall’s number two, a big man with blond highlights in his already blond hair and the goalkeeper: “ I nearly put it out for a fucking corner” says the full-back “ I Know, fuck me” Says the goal keeper.   Half-time arrives and the score is 1-1.

I head to the tea-bar and buy a pounds worth of tea in the hope that it will fortify me against the deepening chill.  Where I have not worn my gloves in order to snap photos, my hands now feel like pins are being driven beneath my finger nails.  The cold has recognised that my thermal socks are a worthy opponent and has by-passed them to go up my trouser leg beyond the top of the socks to penetrate my shin bones.  My neighbour eats an enormous sausage roll (£3.50) that Captain Scott would have coveted and the tea possibly saves my life or at least prevents frost-bite.  I check the half-time scores and am disappointed by the news from Middlesbrough that Ipswich are losing 1-0, although the fact that the Danish, former Toulouse striker  Martin Braithwaite scored the goal, softens the blow because I spotted him as a talent a few years ago,

Half-time over, I take up a seat in the low main stand because my back is aching and also because, frankly, I sometimes enjoy my own company.   To my right five blokes in their late sixties or seventies discuss the score. One of them, a jowly man wearing a bobble hat is adamant that the score is 2-1and the others don’t seem confident enough in the memory of their own observations to tell him he is wrong.  Eventually, a young woman wearing large glasses confirms that the score is 1-1 and I back her up.  Oddly, within seconds, Coggeshall score a second goal to really make the score 2-1 and then quickly add a third as Fakenham fail to successfully make the transition from the dressing room to the pitch.

With not an hour gone, the game is as good as won for Coggeshall, nickname The Seedgrowers, which gives the opportunity to appreciate the beauty of the disappearing daylight.  A bank of cloud on the horizon denies us a spectacular sunset but instead givesOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA the appearance of a mountain range looming up in the distance like the Pyrenees over Languedoc.  Whilst waiting for a fourth Coggeshall goal the old blokes behind me discuss the imminent changes to the fifth and sixth steps of the non-league pyramid and I ponder the fact that Coggeshall’s number eleven appears to have one white leg and one black leg.  This is no doubt due to a knee brace, but it leads me to imagine the implications of mixed race people literally being half black and half white.   The number eleven is a busy, energetic little player but embarrasses himself by finding space on the flank and calling to a team mate with the ball “Feed me, feed me”.  I am reminded of the plant in the ”Little Shop of Horrors”, but the number eleven has the good grace to glance into the crowd looking a little embarrassed.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAbove the glow of the floodlights the sky is midnight blue, but It’s only just gone twenty past four.  Coggeshall add a fourth goal, and then at four-thirty the Seedgrowers’ number ten scores the best goal of the game as he lofts the ball in a graceful arc over the goalkeeper from just outside the penalty area.   Fakenham respond with some substitutions and bring on a large bald man who looks like a Turkish wrestler and two much slimmer and younger players, one of whom looks like his shirt number is the same as his age, fourteen.   Despite there being no doubt about the eventual result, the match remains competitive, which manifests itself in sustained shouts and calls amongst the players which ring out coarsely in the cold winter air.   There are also some very entertaining tackles, which the frighteningly clean-cut referee Mr Farmer rewards with yellow cards, but they give the crowd and players something to bray about.  It’s now five minutes to five and everyone is thinking about going home as a low cross finds the Coggeshall number ten Ross Wall free at the far post and the ball is slammed low into the net, thumping the board behind the goal with the hollow thud more usually heard when the ball misses the goal and hits the advertising hoardings; I find it slightly disorientating, but heck, it’s 6-1 and Ross Wall has a hat-trick.

Mr Farmer soon blows his whistle for the last time today and a sated crowd of 108 disperse into the club house or out into the car park and the early evening.  Having zig-zagged my way through the emptying seats of the stand I pause and speak again with Jimmy who is now with his wife, and then head for the Co-op.

Ipswich Town 0 Norwich City 1

‘I like my football on a Saturday’ sang Ray Davies in the Kinks song Autumn Almanac and it’s convenient for the purposes of this piece to believe he meant that he liked his football on the afternoon of the first day of the weekend to the exclusion of all other days. If it had scanned, Ray might have added that a smattering of mid-week evening matches during the season are fine and the occasional Friday game as well, because as every TV commentator knows the atmosphere under lights ‘is always a bit special’. But football should not be played at midday ever, and definitely not on a Sunday. To make matters worse today’s match is the ‘derby’ between Ipswich and Norwich, the most over-hyped and unpleasant fixture of the season. It is with a heavy heart full of bitterness and rancour therefore that I set off at twenty to eleven to catch the train to Ipswich to watch this match. At least I have the recent memory of sausage, bacon, eggs, mushroom, tomatoes and a few rounds of toast plus tea and coffee to sustain me and ensure I won’t need to buy any over-priced, low nutrition, grease-based lunch inside Portman Road.
It is a grey, cloudy morning but as the train hoves into view faint sunlight can just about be discerned, but it won’t last.  A few other people board the train with me and are clearly bound for Ipswich and the match. A man opposite me seems to struggle to respond to his young daughter’s questions and conversation. At Colchester a couple on Platform 4 awaiting a London bound train nuzzle up to each other and hold hands. The carriage fills up at Manningtree with an assortment of blue shirted people, mostly men. The train crosses the river, the tide is neither in nor out; if I was looking for portents, may be that would suggest the game will be drawn. A few seats away an opinionated man dominates the conversation with his fellow travellers, his piercing voice finding a pitch that cuts through the rattle and whoosh of the speeding train, or perhaps he is just shouting. Arriving at Ipswich we are welcomed by a bevy of hi-vis clad police37597036700_95b1488178_o who wait by the foot of the pedestrian bridge. Outside there are more police, and more, and more, and more. There are white police vans with mesh grilles to cover the windows, motor bikes, dogs, horses, Kevlar, helmets and batons. I thought I was travelling to a football match, but I appear to have arrived in Paris in May 1968, or Brixton in the summer of 1981.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


A long crocodile of Norwich supporters; mostly ugly blokes in their twenties and thirties, are being shepherded along the pavement across the road; they chant coarsely and leer both threateningly and gormlessly at Ipswich fans across the street, who look and behave just like them. A policeman on horseback steers an errant Norwich fan in the right direction by grabbing him by the hood of his coat and dragging him back into line. Depressed, I soldier on in to Portman Road, a young policeman asks me “Are you Sir Alf?”37806242966_834240dcea_o by which I quickly surmise he means is my seat in the Sir Alf Ramsey stand, but not before I laugh and it crosses my mind to say “No I’m not, and I don’t think you’ll find him here today, he died in 1999.” I think there is a flicker of recognition across the policeman’s face that his question was a bit daft or at best poorly framed, but I’m not completely sure. I don’t know why he picked out me to ask. Perhaps I looked a bit lost, I feel it. There are metal barriers along Portman Road to usher the Norwich people into their area of the Cobbold Stand and tables are stood before the turnstiles where bags are being searched, but no one is being patted down, so it would be possible to smuggle in a flare or smoke canister or firecracker under your coat, if that was your thing.
Inside the ground I buy a programme (£3.00), talk to a steward I used to work with and then take my seat in the stand. Someone has smuggled in a smoke canister and the acrid smell and the smoke waft up from the concourse beneath the seats. The public address system drowns out the sound of any noise football supporters might spontaneously make and the stadium announcer gives a clue to his age and catholic tastes by playing Bon Jovi and Heaven 17. The teams come onto the pitch and everyone has been given blue pieces of card to hold up to ‘turn the stadium blue’;37597139880_d54efdafd5_o(1) it doesn’t look that impressive and would look better if some bands of seats had been given white cards to hold up; at least the club has tried however. I am confident of an Ipswich win today based on the law of averages: Town having not recorded a victory in any of the last eight matches between the clubs it’s about time they did.
The game begins with a roar of enthusiasm and there are people stood up in the seats in front of me, which results in the drafting in of extra stewards. The lower tier of the Sir Alf Ramsey isn’t usually populated by people who would stand during a game, indeed it’s37597066870_dbc81449ee_o likely that standing to pee is as much as many of the regulars can manage. But the front of the Alf Ramsey Stand is close to the seats where the Norwich people are accommodated and therefore if you like nothing more than spending an afternoon making masturbatory gestures, gurning and telling people they are ‘scum’ and should ‘fuck off’, it’s the only place to be. There are a few chants from Ipswich supporters but very few from the Sir Alf Ramsey stand lower tier, which is more full than usual, but seemingly no more likely to burst into song in support of the team, despite its newly acquired standing contingent.
The first half is pretty even, but whilst Norwich may keep the ball for longer, Ipswich come closest to scoring. Early on Town’s Danish defender Jonas Knudsen kicks the ball very, very hard against a post of the Norwich goal; what he lacks in craft and accuracy he sometimes makes up for by kicking the ball very hard. David McGoldrick heads the ball over the goal from a free-kick when he could and should score, but this is symptomatic of an anxiety that permeates his play all afternoon.
There’s a cold wind swirling about the stadium and I have turned up the collar of my coat. At half-time I seek shelter in the space beneath the stand where the bars are doing a good trade. A large group of young men are singing, clearly not understanding that traditionally at football the singing takes place on the ’terraces’ during play. It seems that a generation or more of Ipswichians has forgotten or may be never have learned how to support their team. I wander up and down a bit and notice the large banners projecting from pillars announcing that Greene King brewery is proud to be supporting Ipswich Town, and they are no doubt proud too to know that their bland and insipid IPA bitter is being sold for £3.90 a pint.37806224896_a53532601b_o24002096988_4635c03522_o Back up in the stand one of Town’s more senior supporters tucks into a ham sandwich that he brought to the match wrapped in tin foil.
The game returns and Norwich are better than before and by a quarter past one they take the lead through James Maddison, who sounds and looks like he could be in a boy band. Maddison parades about the pitch, his floppy hair bouncing as if he is advertising L’Oreal shampoo, because today he is worth the £3million Norwich paid Coventry for him. Little Jimmy Maddison is better than anyone Ipswich have in midfield today, but of course he’s no Arnold Muhren.
Ridiculously, given the amount of time left, the goal kills the game. Norwich are better on the ball than Ipswich, they have a plan and are versed in winning 1-0 away from home. Ipswich don’t have the guile or skill; they run about, but they hit and hope too much and it will take more than the half an hour left for the law of averages to render a goal from this random approach. Naturally, the Ipswich fans are unable to help because they don’t even try. A bloke near me becomes frustrated and begins abusing the Town players. It is disappointing, but if the supporters don’t know how to support the team why should the players know how to play. The Norwich supporters have songs they all know, they are coherent like their team, and neither the Ipswich team nor its supporters has any answers.
The final whistle provides a sort of relief and I leave the ground as quickly as possible whilst some Ipswich supporters boo their own team, which no doubts adds to the Norwich people’s joy. The police presence outside the ground and on the approach to the railway station is as great as before the game. Rank upon rank of policemen and women are strung across Princes Street, a human obstacle course to the stream of fans heading to catch their trains.
It’s been a disappointing day; everything about the day has been depressing, which I guess the law of averages says has to happen sometimes. But as Voltaire’s Dr Pangloss tells us, all is for the best in this best of all possible worlds. Yeah, right. Keep the faith.